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Environment

What Happens When the Latest Climate Porn Ends?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJuly 17, 2012 7:33 PM

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How inconvenient. I go away on vacation for a few weeks and during that time everybody, it seems, becomes convinced that global warming has struck the earth like the Ten Plagues of Egypt. So does this mean the message (unabated carbon emissions = climate damnation) finally--finally!--has been received by 1) the media, 2) all earthlings (except faithful readers of WUWT and Climate Depot), 3) President Obama, and 4) China, India et al? I know you've been waiting anxiously for my return so I can answer these crucial questions. I will not disappoint. But first, let me say that during my vacation I was disconnected from what was happening in major regions across the United States. From June 28 to July 14, me and the family were (mostly) in Northern California, where the skies were blue (except for that charming San Francisco fog), and the weather was calm and comfortable. Now I am aware that I was in some sort of climatic Twilight Zone for two and half weeks, since nearly every morning I'd wake up to headlines in USA Today about the rest of the country being tormented by historic heat waves, power outages, and catastrophic fires. By the end of week one of our vacation, my Google news alert on climate change was ringing with stories that linked all the misery and disasters--either directly or indirectly--to global warming. Sneaking an occasional peek at my twitter feed on July 3 (I took a vow of no blogging or tweeting), I learned from some journalists and Penn State's Michael Mann that the media was offering up "teachable moments":

Busy time right now to be a climate scientist--in very good way. 'Teachable moments' perfect description of what we have here.

As if on cue, a piece that day in the Associated Press included a quote from the University of Arizona's Jonathan Overpeck that connected all the heat waves/fires/climate change dots:

This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level.

By week two, while my wife and I were blissfully sampling wines in Napa and Sonoma (we left the kids with my brother for a 24-hour getaway) and all of us were lollygagging in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Yosemite National Park, much of the rest of country was still being choked by unbearable heat and the misery index was climbing. A July 10 Time magazine headline asked:

Now do you believe in global warming?

Unsurprisingly, more people were saying yes. This follows a public opinion survey from two months ago that found Americans had become less concerned about global warming. That was then. We don't need a pollster to tell us which way the wind blows today. Or the media. Last week, Joe Romm woke up one day and couldn't find an itch to scratch. Instead, he wrote that

we have the unprecedented situation of the evening news shows last night on ABC, CBS, and NBC (and PBS) all talking about the link between greenhouse gases and the stunning heat wave.

After returning home and reviewing much of the coverage and punditry that has connected global warming to the most recent extreme weather across the United States, I have to wonder: Is this a turning point in the way climate change is covered in the media? Perhaps more importantly, will this newly heightened and likely brief spike in awareness of global warming move beyond the usual climate porn stage to spur a more constructive discussion on how to reduce greenhouse gases? Let me rephrase the question I asked at the outset: Do you think that if scientists and the media continue to pound away with the message of climate damnation that this will lead to action on climate change? That President Obama, in a second term, will make climate change his signature issue? That China and India will agree to curtail their economic growth, and by extension, their carbon emissions? That, absent any of these developments, a great swelling of the masses will rise up and demand politicians to take action? So more people believe in global warming at this moment in time. Big deal. Let's talk again in six months. And even then, if the public opinion needle has seriously moved, what does it matter if it doesn't lead to reality-based discussion about solutions?

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